The 1559 Geneva Bible On Musical Instruments

Praise ye him in the sound of the 1trumpet: praise ye him upon the viol and the harp.

1. Psalm 150:3 Exhorting the people only to rejoice in praising God, he maketh mention of those instruments which by God’s commandment were appointed in the old Law, but under Christ the use thereof is abolished.

—1559 Geneva Bible

32 comments

    • Curt,

      Instruments aren’t essential to praising God. The apostles didn’t need them. The church didn’t need them for 7 centuries. Are animal sacrifices essential for praising God?

  1. I must agree that it would be intolerable to the Church to have to have a trumpeter, a viol player and a harpist, etc. trained in every congregation, ready to play, and playing every time that congregation praises God (though a violist might be helpful to remind us of our frailty … ).
    However, whilst the regulatory specification of these instruments is abolished, it does not follow that the use of all instruments is abolished.
    Actually, such verses could be interpreted to mean “When you play such instruments, make sure you are praising Him upon them” – a sentiment, if I remember rightly, expressed by Calvin.

  2. I think Calvin was wrong but not to blame.

    With no electricity back in the day – Rome employed all sorts of elements in their theatrics. Loud, sensuous music, the “big jewelry” etc. The music was designed in “entertainment” format.

    However, mostly unnoticed to us today, music has embodied a “ministerial” expression for centuries.

    I play the historic Celtic harp at the bedside of the sick and dying – and have seen many patients and caregivers be comforted, encouraged, even “healed” by the music – when skillfully applied. I know first hand, what David must have felt in using this majestically, blessed instrument in prayer.

    Next to the Gospel, music is the most powerful force on earth because it reaches the heart/soul of man in inexplicable ways. It can touch hearts for good or ill – beauty or evil. Music can be expressed in entertainment, celebratory, ministerial and educational modes.

    I would never play the way I do “in concert” at the bedside, for example. Since music is a language, it’s like saying something inappropriate at an inappropriate time – or saying something effective at the right time. In my harp school, in Ireland there is an old saying: “a master harper plays a song to make you laugh, a song to make you weep and a song to make you fall asleep” indicating the great skill needed to impose the 3 categories of human emotion and repose. (This knowledge goes back before David, btw!) Much could be said.

    My take on Calvin’s attitude is he saw the “power” of instrumental music, and rightly steered away from it in worship. (I understand this caution, myself.) With great beauty/power comes great temptation to idolatry.

    However, one of my favorite passages Rev. 14:2 indicates something to do with the harp in God’s throne room. I look forward to The Day! Soli Deo Gloria

    • HD,

      I understand and quite appreciate the power and benefit of instrumental music but wouldn’t be useful to distinguish between what is done privately (e.g., at home or in a hospital room) and what is done in public worship? Our principle, as we articulate it in WCF 21, Belgic 7, and HC 96ff, is that we may do, in public worship only what God commands.

      The other aspect of the RPW is Christian freedom. In public worship the churches may not require of us anything that God has not required. Virtually no one would argue that God requires the use of instruments. The most frequent defense of their use in public worship is that we may or that they are not forbidden. That, of course, is not our principle. That is the Lutheran/Anglican/Roman principle. Often in these discussions I notice that Reformed folk will begin by articulating the RPW right up to the point that it costs them something (e.g., hymns/instruments) at which point they switch horses.

      Calvin understood the power of instrumental music but it was not because he feared it but because of his reading of redemptive history. He was not alone. He shared that reading with all of the Reformed churches (French, German, British, Dutch etc). They all saw instruments as inextricably tied to the Levitical sacrificial ministry and to the period of types and shadows. They had just emerged from the Roman restoration of those types and shadows.

  3. “Calvin understood the power of instrumental music but it was not because he feared it but because of his reading of redemptive history. He was not alone. He shared that reading with all of the Reformed churches (French, German, British, Dutch etc). They all saw instruments as inextricably tied to the Levitical sacrificial ministry and to the period of types and shadows. They had just emerged from the Roman restoration of those types and shadows.”

    I’ve read all variations of this position from the “big guns” all my adult life – forty-plus years. I’m sorry, I’m still not convinced. I’m not convinced from a biblical-theological standpoint, from straight exegesis, or from good and necessary consequence. Everything I’ve ever read boils down, in my view, to an assertion, not an argument. To assert something, even with passion, is not to prove it. When you strip away all the verbiage and get down to the core, all I’ve ever heard is, “Musical instruments are types and shadows, which have passed away.” Ok, I get that. Why they must be such escapes me. I’ve seen no convincing evidence that musical instruments are bound to the sacrificial system in the way the priests’ robes, the incense, or the decorations in the temple are, to name a few examples. You may as well demand that preachers today be dressed exactly like the congregation, because even a simple Geneva gown smacks of bringing back the “types and shadows.”

    I believe that the use of instruments in worship is a “thing indifferent,” with an important qualification: Instruments always and only should assist the congregation to sing praises to God. They have no other purpose in worship – not entertainment, not “mood music,” and certainly not as an independent element of worship (that is, standalone and unaccompanied by singing.) I believe that this one purpose of facilitating the congregation’s corporate singing of God’s praises is obedience to the regulative principle.

    I agree that musical instruments are grossly overused and abused in worship, not least in congregations with so-call “traditional” worship (which, I know, is really late-19th and early-20th century worship). Abuse, however, does not invalidate right use.

    • Frank,

      There are three questions:

      1. The historical – what we did.
      2. The Theological – why they did it.
      3. The Practical – what we should do.

      As to the 1st, the picture is becoming clearer for me as I continue reading.
      As to the 2nd, here is the first great problem. Many in Reformed churches no longer sympathize with the concerns and views of our forefathers.
      As to the 3rd, to the degree 1 and 2 are clear and to the degree folk disagree with them, we should probably ask candidates to take an exception to WCF 21 when they disagree with it.

      As to the exegetical/theological case, what’s the standard of evidence? Before I try to make a case from Scripture, which I’m willing to do, I need to know whether it’s possible to make a case that one would find compelling.

    • There are two things about instruments in old covenant worship that are irrefutable:

      1) Instruments were expressly commanded as an element, not a circumstance in temple worship.

      2) Instruments were only allowed to be used at specific times and places.

      All of this is certified by 2 Chronicles 29:25-30.

      Which, as the RPW requires, has this attachment, “…according to the commandment of David, of Gad the king’s seer, and of Nathan the prophet; for thus was the commandment of the Lord by His prophets.”

  4. While I appreciate the argument from the practice of the Reformers — and I do feel the force of that historical argument — but I have to agree with Frank that I have yet to see the case made from Scripture that instruments are, in fact, part of the types and shadows of the old covenant. It indeed should be possible to make a case that one would find compelling, and I for one would appreciate very much hearing it. I’m looking forward to it!

  5. I’m compelled by noticing that true and beautiful offerings, such as playing a “prayerful” instrumental passage to support/adorn the communion moment in a covenant renewal ceremony on the Lord’s Day, is a glimpse of the Age to Come.

    Again, music is a language. Why can’t it be one of the mysterious helps the Holy Spirit blesses us with, even in His court on the Lord’s Day?

  6. The fact that instruments are not necessary for praising God does not mean that their use is abolished. I still struggle with the logic that asserts that musical instruments are part of what has been abolished in the OT. The notion that the time association alone makes it typological introduces the notion that typology needs no illustrative function–something not seen in other examples of typology. And, again, such reduces the use of playing musical instruments to glorify God.

    Drawing on past threads, what seems to be more Judaizing regarding the use of musical instruments is using a physically purest standard in which we worship by what we sing and what we don’t use while singing for which we have no NT precedence. Rather, we see a shift from the emphasis on the physical to the spiritual in the NT with Jesus’ proclamation that worship can occur any place and with the elimination of what was associated with Judaizing, circumcision and keeping pure by avoiding the presence of those who are unclean– both are mentioned in Galatians.

  7. Someone recently, in this series of posts, asked what exactly were instruments a type or shadow of. I don’t believe a response was given. If I missed the answer, or if the blog’s author has answered somewhere else, would someone mind pointing it out?

    • Don,

      I addressed this earlier. Why is this a good question? What, according to Scripture, is the antitype for holy war? Where does the NT explicitly abolish holy war?

      Psalm 149 explicitly connects the cultic use of musical instruments with holy war, yet I hear no one (except perhaps some deconstructionists) demanding the return of holy war. Why? We all know that holy war expired with the death of Christ.

      How then can we save the cultic use musical instruments since, as I keep saying, they are stained with the blood of bulls, goats, and Canaanites?

  8. Don wrote,

    “Someone recently, in this series of posts, asked what exactly were instruments a type or shadow of.”

    That’s what I was getting at, though I didn’t express it as clearly. I have great respect for the argument that we should leave the types and shadows behind, and not give into the temptation to return to them. That’s a powerful truth. Unquestionably it is faithful to redemptive history and to the New Testament. Of course I’m open to a “compelling” case that would locate musical instruments in corporate worship among those types and shadows. In fact, in many ways life would be much easier if this were the case. I’ve yet to be convinced, however. As I wrote earlier, using the same line of argument, we should insist that a preacher be dressed exactly like his congregation, because a robe of any kind is among the “types and shadows.” Certainly, to require a robe would be to return to that which is passed away, and a violation of conscience. The use of a robe, however, is a thing indifferent and a matter of wisdom and prudence. The same holds for musical instruments in corporate worship, in my opinion.

    It seems to me that the burden of proof rests on those who believe that instruments are “types and shadows.” It’s not enough simply to point out that a thing occurred in the Old Testament economy. That fact itself is not conclusive that we must abandon it now. Reams of quotations from our forefathers are not sufficient to move me. I must be shown from the Scriptures.

    • Frank,

      I just replied to Don’s question (which someone else has already asked) so I won’t do it again here.

      Why is the burden of proof on those who reject instruments since

      1) It was the historic Reformed view

      2) It was the historic Christian view

      Why isn’t the burden of proof on the historical minority instead?

      No one has yet answered my question:

      What will the pro-instrument side accept as an argument? What must one show in order to make the case. I believe the case has been made. I’ve met very few people who’ve ever read Ames and Gilespie et al on this. I’m willing to spend the time to re-state the case from Scripture on the condition that we agree as to what the standard of proof is.

      If, however, the game is rigged and no matter what I say the judge/jury will say: Nope, that’s not enough, then it’s a fools errand.

      Does that make sense?

      So, again, what must one show in order to make the case against the cultic (public worship) use of musical instruments?

  9. Do I dare insert into this discussion the practice of many large evangelical and some large “reformed” congregations of using paid, non-member and unregenerate musicians to play those instruments during worship services?

    This one seems fairly obvious to me, but I am continually surprised to find it. We have a very long way to go Dr. Clark!

  10. Dr. Clark,

    As Reformed Christians, I really don’t think the majority/minority approach should hold too much weight. Roman Catholics can often rip us to shreds on that one.

    I’m perplexed that we seem to be at loggerheads here. How can I possibly know “what must one show in order to make the case against the cultic (public worship) use of musical instruments” until I see it? If I already knew the answer, I would be in agreement, and there would be no discussion.

    It’s a little bit like the question, “Where did you leave your keys?” If I knew that, they wouldn’t be lost.

    Here is something specific: Can you reference a couple of the best writers on the subject, so that I can review the arguments again? Resources on the web would be best.

    When all is said and done, it might be like one of those exchanges we’ve had with an Arminian friend. After hours and hours of to-ing and fro-ing, marshalling all the evidence we could from Scripture and history and the confessions, he just didn’t get it.

    • Frank,

      There must be some science to solving this problem. It cannot be all art and intuition. Doubtless there is a subjective element to all such discussions but since modern Reformed folk disagree with our Reformed forebears then the onus is on them to explain why they were wrong. When our confessions were written our congregations were a cappella Scripture-singing in their worship. If they don’t get to define “Reformed” then we’re back to the very Reformed Narcissism that I described and critiqued in Recovering the Reformed Confession. We don’t get to re-define “Reformed” as we will, do we?

      Authors:

      1. Calvin is very clear about these things. I’ve summarized his position here: “Calvin’s Principle of Worship,” in ed. David Hall, Tributes to John Calvin: A Celebration of his Quincentenary (Phillipsburg: P&R Publishing, 2010), 247–69. It’s available via Amazon.

      2. Ames, A Fresh Suit Against Human Ceremonies. This is available online.

      3. Gilespie, on English Popish Ceremonies is back in print in a wonderful new edition.

      These are but a few examples. This was the view of ALL the Reformed orthodox. Just as we’ve largely ignored them on other matters, we have assiduously ignored them on worship but their views are available.

  11. Frank Aderholdt and others who obviously desire to know and do God’s will— may I suggest John Price’s book “Old Light for New Worship.” In it, he carefully lays out the Scriptural basis, drawing upon both Old Testament and New, for the position on musical instruments promoted here. He very carefully shows how God has always prescribed the pattern for worship, including the very instruments to be used and how, why and when they are to be used. Price still promotes hymnody rather than psalmody, but I believe he’s very helpful on thinking through the use of musical instruments in worship.

    Just a couple of things that have helped me—if it’s legitimate to use musical instruments, then there is no regulation possible of which ones should be used, how loudly and much they are played, whether they’re in the rear or the front of the church, whether they only lightly accompany or drown out, etc., in the churches. It becomes an entirely subjective matter, for one person’s nightmare is another person’s sublimity. It all becomes a matter of preference, and works against unity both in the local church and amongst the churches.

    David didn’t come up with the songs or the instruments or how they were used—as quoted above, all was “according to the commandment of David, of Gad the king’s seer, and of Nathan the prophet; for thus was the commandment of the Lord by His prophets.” Under the new dispensation, we can’t just come up with stuff, either. We have the instructions of the apostles in our singing together. It includes the making of melody, for sure—the metaphoric “plucking the strings of the heart.”

    Let the proper fear of the Lord guide, and the trembling at his word compel us to eagerly seek to know if these things are true. It’s too vital an issue to shrug shoulders and say, “At the end of the day, I’m probably not going to change my mind…”

    • Jeri,

      Thank you for this. I have Price on my current stack through which I’m working. I’m reading an 1807 report by a Church of Scotland Presbytery contra the congregation in Glasgow that added an organ to the church for use in worship, contra the church order. After that I plan to read Price.

      Your point,

      David didn’t come up with the songs or the instruments or how they were used—as quoted above, all was “according to the commandment of David, of Gad the king’s seer, and of Nathan the prophet; for thus was the commandment of the Lord by His prophets.” Under the new dispensation, we can’t just come up with stuff, either. We have the instructions of the apostles in our singing together. It includes the making of melody, for sure—the metaphoric “plucking the strings of the heart.”

      is quite important. The Levites did what they did by divine command. The historic Reformed view, which was held when our confessions were framed, was that command had “expired.” In other words, they used instruments in public worship because God commanded. We stopped because God hasn’t commanded us to imitate them.

      Who defends the use of instruments in public worship without shifting from “God commanded” (RPW) to “God permits” (normative principle)?

  12. Dr. Clark,

    I have the book “Tributes to John Calvin” and will be reading your essay (Chapter 12).

    I seem to find myself largely the “odd man out” in this discussion. It’s certainly strange, on one of the premier Reformed websites, when the emphasis is on “What saith the Confessions?” rather than “What saith the Scriptures?”

    I yield second place to no one in my commitment to the Westminster Confession of Faith and Catechisms. I hold to “full subscription,” after all. I am on the Board of Greenville Presbyterian Theological Seminary which, as you know, agrees with and insists on the original intent of the wording of the Westminster Standards on six-day creation (because we believe it to be Biblical, of course).

    Yet I must dissent with the statement that “since modern Reformed folk disagree with our Reformed forebears then the onus is on them to explain why they were wrong.” No, the onus is not on me to explain why they are wrong, but on them to explain why they are right according to the Scriptures. We are Protestants. “Sola Scriptura” is not an empty, antiquarian slogan. If I honestly believe that the Reformed confessions err at any point (and I’m convinced they almost never do), then I will go where I believe the Bible goes – there and only there.

    By the way, I believe that the original version of Paragraph 3 of WCF XXIII, “Of the Civil Magistrate,” is a more accurate statement of Biblical teaching than the American revisions:

    “The civil magistrate may not assume to himself the administration of the Word and sacraments, or the power of the keys of the kingdom of heaven: yet he hath authority, and it is his duty, to take order, that unity and peace be preserved in the Church, that the truth of God be kept pure and entire; that all blasphemies and heresies be suppressed; all corruptions and abuses in worship and discipline prevented or reformed; and all the ordinances of God duly settled, administered, and observed. For the better effecting whereof, he hath power to call synods, to be present at them, and to provide that whatsoever is transacted in them be according to the mind of God.”

    For many years, I suppose the majority of “Reformed folk” would assent to the paragraph above. Does that mean that we should defer to their view? I know that you hold to the “modern” (post-1789) view, because you believe that it is more Biblical. Kind of proves my point, doesn’t it?

  13. Jeri and Dr. Clark,

    As far as I know, those who believe in the propriety of instruments in corporate worship see it this way: God commanded singing with instruments in the Old Covenant. This much is not in dispute. In the New Covenant, God commands His people to sing His praises. This, too, is agreed upon by all. The use of instruments in worship is merely a means to facilitate (make it easier for, provide assistance to) the congregation’s corporate praise and, as such, is to be ordered by prudence and wisdom as circumstances require. (Ah, there’s the rub!) Thus, there was no need for God to repeat the command to use instruments, for they are merely ancillary, an aid to the singing itself, which is commanded. The God commands/God permits distinction is simply not an issue here.

    If you forbid instruments in public worship, must you also prohibit a pitch-pipe, or a precentor to guide and direct the singing? What about unison singing vs. harmony? (This, too, has been an issue in some circles.) In the nature of the case, there must be some “circumstances” in every worship service. The argument against instruments as a “circumstance” proves too much, in my opinion. How do you know that the form, style, arrangement, meter, rhythms, and modal structure of your unaccompanied singing bears any relationship to that which pleases God?

    • Hi Frank, if you listen to some audio of a capella congregational Psalm singing, you’ll usually hear a brother begin the song (perhaps he used a pitch pipe to get the note), and then the congregation joins in. It’s common sense- God wants his church to sing together, and to do so one must find the right note and the people must start together in the right key. He knew there would be different times and cultures, and therefore differences would naturally occur in the musical elements you mentioned. I do encourage you to get the book by John Price, if you’re really wanting to see the biblical case well-made. A reason this is important (besides that little matter of God’s will being done!) is because out in the evangelical wasteland where I live, they are not going to give up their stage and mics and guitars and pop songs if it’s just a matter of preference. Where is your biblical case for putting the instruments in the back of the church and only having light piano accompaniment? There’s not one! But the biblical case can be made, and has been, that musical instruments are obsolete. Something better is here!

  14. Jeri, Thank you for the irenic tone with which you’re carrying on this conversation. I agree with you completely on the “evangelical wasteland.” I live amidst it, too.

    My wife and I are headed to New Orleans today for a symphony concert. I have only a few moments, and then I’ll sign off.

    One short point on the practical difficulties of which instruments to use, where to place them, and how to keep them under control, which are no small matters. This is the duty of the elders, no less than to guard the content of the preaching, determine the appropriate length of the prayers, and set the procedure for the weekly collection. I assure you, this is not a “throwaway” point. It is of first important for the governance and good order of the church.

    Curt’s excellent observations bear repeating:

    “The fact that instruments are not necessary for praising God does not mean that their use is abolished. I still struggle with the logic that asserts that musical instruments are part of what has been abolished in the OT. The notion that the time association alone makes it typological introduces the notion that typology needs no illustrative function–something not seen in other examples of typology.”

    Exactly so. The tendency to reject everything connected in any way with the Mosaic economy is more dispensational than Reformed. We must not fall into the hermeneutical trap of “If it’s not repeated in the New Testament, it’s not valid.” The proper approach is, “According to the New Testament, what is certainly, definitively, and finally abolished?”

    And this from Don:

    “Someone recently, in this series of posts, asked what exactly were instruments a type or shadow of.” Again, the bare fact that instruments were present in Old Testament worship does not mean they are prohibited today. I still cannot see that instruments are included in “that which is passing away.” The logic that the usefulness of instruments is fulfilled by the sacrifice of Christ escapes me.

    • Frank,

      If the patristic, most of the medieval, the Geneva, French, German, Dutch, and British Reformed churches were “Dispensationalist” in their hermeneutic, then I’m a “Dispensationalist” but of course that’s a silly definition of “Dispensationalist” and unworthy of you to say. They did, after all SING PSALMS and KEEP THE SABBATH (caps for emphasis and only a shouting a little), which is hardly dispensationalist.

    • The same things seem to keep coming up in this discussion Frank, and the answers keep remaining the same.

      I still struggle with the logic that asserts that musical instruments are part of what has been abolished in the OT. The notion that the time association alone makes it typological introduces the notion that typology needs no illustrative function–something not seen in other examples of typology.”

      This is hardly a silver bullet by Curt.
      Again, instruments were brought into the ceremonial worship by the specific command of God to specifically accompany the sacrifices and were to be played by specific families of priests. 1 Chron.25:1, 2 Chron. 29:25-8 Further, typologically I would say instrumental music represented the joy of the Holy Spirit, but that notwithstanding it’s pretty clear that musical instruments were intimately tied up in the temple worship.

      Exactly so. The tendency to reject everything connected in any way with the Mosaic economy is more dispensational than Reformed. We must not fall into the hermeneutical trap of “If it’s not repeated in the New Testament, it’s not valid.” The proper approach is, “According to the New Testament, what is certainly, definitively, and finally abolished?”

      Well according to “the proper approach”, ceremonial worship, which included sacrifices, priests and instruments/orchestras has certainly been abolished, while prayer and praising God in song, continue in the NT.

      Nobody is asking anybody to necessarily agree, but an informed disagreement is heard before an uninformed dissent.

      cheers

  15. This was my sentence: “The tendency to reject everything connected in any way with the Mosaic economy is more dispensational than Reformed.” I chose each word very carefully, so as not to paint with too broad a brush. The are several important qualifications. I stand by the statement.

  16. Scott,

    You wrote “Who defends the use of instruments in public worship without shifting from “God commanded” (RPW) to “God permits” (normative principle)?”

    That’s exactly and always the case.

    …It is either commanded and thus must always be used, or they are not commanded, and therefore must never be used in the worship of God. There is no other option for those who claim the follow the RPW.

    Just as if you have no wine you cannot observe the Lord’s Supper, if you have no musical instruments or someone who can play, then you may not sing in worship. And no, Welch’s counterfeit sacramental wine doesn’t count.

    It always strikes me so odd that people want to keep the OT worship that is fulfilled in Christ (musical instruments) and jetison the 150 Psalms despite the command to sing them in Eph and Col, and replace them with songs God didn’t command to be sung or even written.

Comments are closed.